Reasons for God – Alvin Plantinga

Alvin Carl Plantinga (born November 15, 1932) is an American analytic philosopher, formerly the John A. O’Brien Professor of Philosophy at the University of Notre Dame. He is known for his work in philosophy of religion, epistemology, metaphysics, and Christian apologetics. Plantinga is a Christian and known for applying the methods of analytic philosophy to defend orthodox Christian beliefs.

Plantinga is the author of a number of books, including God and Other Minds (1967), The Nature of Necessity (1974), and the „warrant” series culminating in Warranted Christian Belief (2000). He has delivered the Gifford Lectures three times, and was described by Time magazine in 1980 as „America’s leading orthodox Protestant philosopher of God.”[1]

Philosophical views

Notably, Plantiga has argued that some people can know that God exists as a basic belief, requiring no argument, similar to how people usually claim to know that other minds exist. He has also argued that there is no logical inconsistency between the existence of evil and the existence of an all-powerful, all-knowing, wholly good God.[25]

Problem of evil

Main article: Plantinga’s free will defense

In The Nature of Necessity, Plantinga presents his free will defense to the logical problem of evil. Plantinga’s aim is to show that the existence of an omniscient, omnipotent, wholly good God is not inconsistent with the existence of evil, as many philosophers have argued.

In a truncated form, Plantinga’s argument is as follows: He argues that it is greater for a being to possess free will, as opposed to being non-free. And because a God cannot guarantee the benevolence of a truly free being without intervention or influence, thus removing free will, it follows that for a being to have true free will that they must be capable of moral evil else such a being would be only capable of moral good, which in itself is as Plantinga stated: „Entirely paradoxical”. Plantinga goes on to argue that a world with free will is more valuable then a world without such, therefore God has reason to create a world which has the capability of evil. Thus because of this the existence of evil counts „neither against God’s omnipotence nor against His goodness„, rather it is an error by the creature in their exercise of such freedom.[26]

According to Chad Meister, professor of philosophy at Bethel College, most contemporary philosophers accept Plantinga’s argument.[27] The problem of evil is now commonly framed in evidential form which does not involve the claim that God and evil are logically contradictory or inconsistent. However, some philosophers continue to defend the cogency of the logical problem of evil.[30]

Reformed epistemology

Plantinga’s contributions to epistemology include an argument which he dubs „Reformed epistemology„. According to Reformed epistemology, belief in God can be rational and justified even without arguments or evidence for the existence of God. More specifically, Plantinga argues that belief in God is properly basic, and due to a religious externalist epistemology, he claims belief in God could be justified independently of evidence. His externalist epistemology, called „Proper functionalism,” is a form of epistemological reliabilism.

Plantinga discusses his view of Reformed epistemology and Proper functionalism in a three volume series. In the first book of the trilogy, Warrant: The Current Debate, Plantinga introduces, analyzes, and criticizes 20th century developments in analytic epistemology, particularly the works of Chisholm, BonJour, Alston, Goldman, and others.

In the second book, Warrant and Proper Function, he introduces the notion of warrant as an alternative to justification and discusses topics like self-knowledge, memories, perception, and probability. Plantinga’s proper function account argues that as a necessary condition of having warrant is that one’s „belief-forming and belief-maintaining apparatus of powers” are functioning properly—”working the way it ought to work”.[31] Plantinga explains his argument for proper function with reference to a „design plan”, as well as an environment in which one’s cognitive equipment is optimal for use. Plantinga asserts that the design plan does not require a designer: „it is perhaps possible that evolution (undirected by God or anyone else) has somehow furnished us with our design plans”,[32] but the paradigm case of a design plan is like a technological product designed by a human being (like a radio or a wheel).

Plantinga seeks to defend this view of proper function against alternative views of proper function proposed by other philosophers which he groups together as ‘naturalistic’ including the ‘functional generalization’ view of John Pollock, the evolutionary/etiological account provided by Ruth Millikan, and a dispositional view held by John Bigelow and Robert Pargetter.[33] Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism is also discussed in the later chapters of Warrant and Proper Function.

In 2000, the third volume, Warranted Christian Belief, was published. Plantinga reintroduces his theory of warrant to ask whether Christian theistic belief can enjoy warrant. He argues that this is plausible. Notably, the book does not address whether or not Christian theism is true.

Modal ontological argument

Plantinga has expressed a modal logic version of the ontological argument in which he uses modal logic to develop, in a more rigorous and formal way, Norman Malcolm‘s and Charles Hartshorne‘s modal ontological arguments.

Evolutionary argument against naturalism

In Plantinga’s evolutionary argument against naturalism, he argues that the truth of evolution is an epistemic defeater for naturalism (i.e. if evolution is true, it undermines naturalism). His basic argument is that if evolution and naturalism are both true, human cognitive faculties evolved to produce beliefs that have survival value (maximizing one’s success at the four F’s: „feeding, fleeing, fighting, and reproducing”), not necessarily to produce beliefs that are true. Thus, since human cognitive faculties are tuned to survival rather than truth in the naturalism-cum-evolution model, there is reason to doubt the veracity of the products of those same faculties, including naturalism and evolution themselves. On the other hand, if God created man „in his image” by way of an evolutionary process (or any other means), then Plantinga argues our faculties would probably be reliable.

The argument does not assume any necessary correlation (or uncorrelation) between true beliefs and survival. Making the contrary assumption—that there is in fact a relatively strong correlation between truth and survival—if human belief-forming apparatus evolved giving a survival advantage, then it ought to yield truth since true beliefs confer a survival advantage. Plantinga counters that, while there may be overlap between true beliefs and beliefs that contribute to survival, the two kinds of beliefs are not the same.

Position on evolution and Christianity

In the past, Plantinga has lent support to the intelligent design movement.[35] He was a member of the ‘Ad Hoc Origins Committee’ that supported Philip E. Johnson‘s book Darwin on Trial against palaeontologist Stephen Jay Gould‘s high profile scathing review in Scientific American in 1992.[36] Plantinga also provided a back-cover endorsement of Johnson’s book.[37] He was a Fellow of the (now moribund) pro-intelligent design International Society for Complexity, Information, and Design,[38] and has presented at a number of intelligent design conferences.[39] He is among the charter signatories of the 2008 published „Evangelical Manifesto”.[40]

In a March 2010 article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, philosopher of science Michael Ruse claims that Plantinga is an „open enthusiast of intelligent design.”[41] In a letter to the editor, Plantinga has the following response:

Like any Christian (and indeed any theist), I believe that the world has been created by God, and hence „intelligently designed.” The hallmark of intelligent design, however, is the claim that this can be shown scientifically; I’m dubious about that. …As far as I can see, God certainly could have used Darwinian processes to create the living world and direct it as he wanted to go; hence evolution as such does not imply that there is no direction in the history of life. What does have that implication is not evolutionary theory itself, but unguided evolution, the idea that neither God nor any other person has taken a hand in guiding, directing or orchestrating the course of evolution. But the scientific theory of evolution, sensibly enough, says nothing one way or the other about divine guidance. It doesn’t say that evolution is divinely guided; it also doesn’t say that it isn’t. Like almost any theist, I reject unguided evolution; but the contemporary scientific theory of evolution just as such—apart from philosophical or theological add-ons—doesn’t say that evolution is unguided. Like science in general, it makes no pronouncements on the existence or activity of God.[42]


Here is an excerpt from the video below, in which Professor Plantinga discusses evolution and naturalism:

What I say, is if you don’t believe in God and if you’re a naturalist and you also accept evolution, then you’ve got a reason to think that your faculties aren’t reliable. If you’re not like that,  like everybody, you just take it for granted that your faculties are reliable, that seems to me perfectly sensible.

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